Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

Bad Side of Spring Thaw

June 5, 2013


Poor polar bears have fewer places farther in between as arctic ice floes melt.

I am posting this drawing, which you will notice has no elephants, from iPhone. If there are not TWO polar bears in it, you may need to click on the drawing. Thanks.

Shades of Grass

May 26, 2013


Pearl Mounts Ice Floe To Raise Awareness For Its Melt

January 28, 2011

Pearl (Sans Elephant) Gets On The Floe

“Pearl!” I called down to the Hudson.   “I know you feel a special sympathy for polar bears–” (I think it’s the white fur/ black nose thing)–”but, seriously, this is going too far.”

“Errruuurrrmmmmmm,” Pearl replied.

Setting Pearl aside for a minute (while she’s still within range), it’s hard for us in the frigid Eastern U.S. to focus on the fact that this has been the second of two freakishly warm winters in the Arctic.   Scientists postulate that this is part of the reason for all the “excess” cold both here and in Europe–the circulation of various Polar jet streams has broken from usual vortexes, allowing arctic air to swoop down in exchange for warmer air swooping up.  Some scientists are concerned that this two-year change may signal long-term damage to a so-called arctic “fence” –see an article about it here.

In the meantime—”Pearrrrrrllll!”

Redwing Blackbird Mystery

January 3, 2011

What's happened to them?

Lord Help Us! The Tea Party and Climate Change

October 22, 2010

According to a recent New York Times article, Tea Partiers tend not to believe in climate change, or, if they do at least accept statistics of changing temperatures, they do not believe that the causes have anything to do with man.  One big rationale for this doubt is apparently religious faith.  The classic Tea Party reading of the Bible seems to be that since the Earth (and all of creation) is made to be used, or as some say, “utilized,” by man (read Americans), he/we can’t really wreck it.

“They’re trying to use global warming against the people,” Lisa Deaton, founder of We The People Indiana, said. “It takes away our liberty.”

“Being a strong Christian,” she added, “I cannot help but believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country and it’s not there to destroy us.”

Some variations on this thought.

I cannot help but believe:

  1. That the Lord placed a lot of sea turtles on our coasts, and that we are here to destroy them.
  2. That the Lord placed a ton of ice in our polar caps so that there’d be plenty for us to destroy.
  3. That the Lord placed a lot of bacteria in our world, some of which, without the aid of modern antibiotics, would destroy us.
  4. That the Lord put some deserts in our country and that with the help of massive water re-routing we can make a whole bunch more.
  5. That the Lord not only put all these minerals in our country but also gave us the ability to strip mine and hydrofrack the hell out of it.

Oh, great.

Surface Soot in Kashmir – “Glacial” Doesn’t Mean Slow When It Comes To Warming

July 18, 2010
Kashmir (Sooty Glacier With Goat)

Kashmir - Sooty Glacier (With Goat)

Nicholas Kristoff writes in today’s New York Times about the decline of glaciers in the Himalayas, and the resulting damage to agriculture and waterways on the Indian plains.  One factor in the deterioration (aside from a general rise in temperatures) is apparently the soot on the surface of the glaciers, caused by the exhaust systems of trucks and buses traveling the roadways there.   Because the soot reduces the reflective quality of the snow and ice, it causes them to absorb more heat and melt more quickly.

Archival and new photographs illustrating Himalayan deterioration are currently on display at the Asia Society in New York, but I couldn’t resist adding my own photographic evidence.  The photo above (taken June 2009) shows a slice of soot-covered Himalayan glacier; a goat travels on top of the blackened-ice, whitish buses haunt the background.

The roads–the road in that area, which travels from Srinagar, through Kargil, to Ladakh, is only open from mid-May to October.  In these months, it is extremely crowded with both commercial (beautifully decorated) trucks transporting the year’s worth of supplies, and extensive army convoys.  (They move about the thousands of soldiers stationed in Kashmir.)

Drass, Kashmir, India

The glaciers are beautiful, but sadly grey.  As we began ascending the mountains (by car – no crampons), I thought the grey was a sign of the age of the ice (as in humans!) but closer viewing showed it to be the coating of ash and soot that Kristoff writes of.   (It actually reminded me of snow in New York City — say, near the Holland Tunnel.)

You don’t need to do extensive “backwater” explorations to see an effect on lowland rivers – below is a picture taken in India’s primary tourist city, Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, showing the riverbed of the Yamuna (part of Indus river system fed by Himalayas.)    It’s my understanding that the “islands” used to be submerged.

Yamuna River, Agra

So many people rely on these waterways.  This is not just a problem of dry pipes or reduced pressure – people (often children or women) actively take livestock, laundry, and their individual selves to the riverbanks.

The reduced flow seems not only to mean lesser water but, increased muck – less dilution of the zillion and one pollutants that burden these poor waterways.

Where else can the people go?  They walk out further onto the caked silt of the old riverbed to get to the mirk of water that’s still there.

Kristoff hopes in the article that the BP spill will make Americans, and others, aware of the increasing degradation of the environment worldwide.   I, for one, think it’s doubtful, since Americans have difficulty recognizing the degradation of their home environment.   But many poorer countries – certainly not just India – which have hopped onto  a developmental train of manufacturing and consumption, have no environmental safeguards, enforcement, or even disposal systems, and  tragedy looms.  As nature is reduced, as true rivers and glaciers “melt down”,  mountains of undisintegrated plastic and pools of shinily suspicious liquids move in to fill (or deepen) the void.  (I couldn’t quite make myself take pictures of those.)

Yamuna River, Agra, India

Quatorze Juillet – French Burnt Peanuts, Fraternite, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

July 14, 2010

Oh brother how are thou?

A lot of disparate elements to pull together on today, July 14th, Bastille Day, the French national day.

My only Bastille Day actually spent in France was in Nice at age 8.  Its most memorable element was not the fireworks over the Mediterranean (although I can still picture one beautiful arc of flash) but the French burnt peanuts bought from a street vendor on the nighttime beach.  It was the first time I’d ever tasted French burnt peanuts and they were like fireworks in my mouth–hot, sweet, crinkly, crunchy, touched so delicately with salt that it might have just been the taste of the sea air on my tongue.   The nuts were, despite several prior days in France, my first real evidence of the deliciousness of French food–my parents, traveling on a strict budget, made us eat a lot of ham sandwiches put together by my mother in the car.

My next most important memory of Bastille Day is not actually my personal memory, but one recounted to me by members of my husband’s family—a patriotic group who’d lived through and/or fought in World War II, serving with the U.S. forces.  On one July 14th, during the height of DeGaulle’s France First approach (and U.S. furor at his perceived ingratitude), my in-laws and some friends celebrated  by lying down on the floor to sing the Marseillaise.  This (the floor part) was deemed to show the highest disrespect, although, for my part, I was always impressed that they cared enough about France to actually know all the words.  (Also reflecting a longstanding U.S. love-hate relationship with the French, a/k/a Freedom Fries!)

I personally never learned the full Marseillaise, but was taught the slogan words of the French Revolution – Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.   Liberté and egalité were expected (except for the “g”) but “fraternité”  – brotherhood  – always took me aback (and not only because I was a girl.)   The American Revolution talked of freedom and justice for all (except for slaves), but did not (at least in my limited understanding) give the same emphasis to this kind of connection among people.  (My off-the-cuff, uninformed, explanation is that the American colonies were already already somewhat united against a common “foreign” enemy, while the French Revolution, more akin to a civil war, needed to emphasize alliance.)

But I don’t want to write today about the French Revolution; what I want to write about are sea turtles.  There is a very sad, if interesting, video piece in the New York Times today about forensic efforts to uncover the exact cause of the huge rise in turtle deaths in the Gulf since the BP oil spill.   (Brent McDonald, Kassie Bracken, and Shaila Diwan.) The oil is an obvious culprit, but deaths also seem to result from sea turtles drowning in shrimping nets, particularly in Louisiana which apparently does not enforce Federal law regarding escape hatches in the nets for turtles.   One thought is that, in addition to poisoning the turtles, the oil may drive them into areas that are inhospitable and unfamiliar;  the spill may have also changed the conduct of fishermen.

Many of the turtles dying are the endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtles; their life span would otherwise go into the decades.   They are beautiful, their faces seemingly embued with a thoughtful intelligence.

Which brings me back to Bastille Day—not because of Louisiana’s French roots – but because of the French Revolutionary tenet of fraternity.  It seems to me increasingly unlikely that much will be done to save turtles or any non-human species, the environment, or even the planet itself, unless and until people feel a meaningful connection with creatures other than themselves.  I don’t mean simply the sentimental connection of how endearing the creatures are (although that’s a start).  I mean a connection that be real enough to inspire actual care and sacrifice.

I don’t mean to diminish people’s concerns about their jobs, what they eat and the temperature at which they keep their dwellings.   But at the moment, there is another kind of love/hate relationship going on here (more serious than the one with the French.)  We love the idea of saving wildlife, the environment;  we hate to actually do anything about it, to change our lives.  Some kind of better balance needs to be reached between short-term, individual concerns, and longer-term, world-wide needs, an understanding that humans may not do very well in a world in which sea turtles are dying in droves, that these creatures deserve lives free from molestation and torture, that the death of a sea turtle is a death in the family.

Water Water Not Everywhere Nor Any Drop To Drink

March 22, 2010

Masterful Water Drinker

Today, March 22nd, is “World Water Day”.   The New York Times “Lens” blog posts a couple of photographs showing a very polluted-looking Yamuna River passing by New Delhi, and  a drought-stricken area of Orissa, in Eastern India, where the surface of the earth looks as cracked as an unrestored Old Master.

A U.N. report published today says that more people are killed by dirty water each year than violence.

It seems apt (to me at least) that photographs illustrating water issues are taken from India.   Everyone loves water, but I remember being struck on my first trip to India, almost (gulp!) thirty years ago, how particularly involved Indians were with it.  I was amazed, first, by how masterful they were at its consumption:  just about everyone I saw could hold a metal cup  of “panni” appreciable inches from their faces and still manage to pour every single drop inside their mouths in a seamless, non-choking arc.

Then, there was all the bathing.  Real or ritual baths seemed a major part of daily life.   Even very poor people, people who lived in the street, would sit down with a jug or tap, carefully working their portion of whatever water they happen to get over arms and limbs.  (Baths taken while semi-clothed are no less baths.)

Cans of water were kept ready by fruit and vegetable sellers to douse cucumbers or fruit salads, heightening their appeal with regular applications of glisten and dewdrop.

Sacred rivers were jammed, but even less important pools were active.  Boys cooled off, water buffalos watered, jugs filled, clothes, endless clothes, were scrubbed and twisted and thwacked.

I particularly remember Udaipur (Rajasthan), a city famous for its beautiful lake and, especially its lake palace (which is a famous hotel now, also the site of the James Bond movie, Octopussy).  I was touring something, a fort turned into museum, and heard through the thick walls the thump thump thump of what sounded like an immense heart.  (Dobis, washer women, pounding clothes by the shore line.)

I have been told recently that the lake in Udaipur is almost completely dried up (at least during major portions of the year.)   On a recent trip, I saw the Yamuna River (shown frothy with chemicals outside of New Delhi in today’s Times) shrunk to about half its former size as it passes the back of the Taj Mahal in Agra.   And some of those smaller bodies of water, pools outside towns and villages were scummy with a toxic bright green, edges clogged with polyurethane.   Do people still use this water?  What other do some of them have?

Shrunken Yamuna River behind the Taj Mahal

How To Be Cool. For Those Whose Slang (Like Their Mahtabili) Is A Little Bit Rusty.

January 24, 2010


I am currently lying under a fleece blanket and two down comforters.    The heating unit at my side is turned off.  I could jump quickly into the cold, twist it on, then slip back into my lair, but, for some reason, I just don’t.

I’m not quite sure what this reason is.  I pay for heat in my apartment, so there’s an element of miserliness.  It’s blown hot air  (dry and noisy),  so there’s simple distaste.  There’s also, of course, my  heightened, if terribly inconsistent, environmental consciousness.  Then too, there’s the memory of my last apartment where Super-controlled heat blasts made for January sweats.

All of these combine into a perverse, hardier-than-thou, pride that keeps the heating units switched off.

I have recently found that this pride makes me part of  “Cool Crowd,” a class of people depicted in the New York Times the other day who eschew indoor heat in cold climates.

Being part of this cool crowd feels really great (despite the weight of the blankets).  I always was embarrassingly unhip as a child.  Actually, I’ve felt unhip my entire life.  I’ve rarely known the names or music of hot bands, TV shoes, movies, films.  My slang, like Alec Guiness’s “Mahtabili” in the film classic Kind Hearts and Coronets, has always been “a little bit rusty.”

Given the fact that the temperature in my apartment probably rarely dips below 50/45  (I don’t have a thermostat), I’m guessing that I’m only on the “luke” edge of the “cool crowd”.    Even so, no less than three members of my family separately asked me if I had seen the NY Times article.

These family members are extremely patient.   They don’t openly groan during my monologues about the merits of long silk underwear,  the importance of wool,  the risks of sock-removal.  They joke about the fact that I constantly tell them that they can turn on the heat, if they want, then proceed to turn it off again (if they’ve dared) after only a few minutes.

I warn them against wimpiness.  I regale them with tales about the time the water in my toilet bowl froze.   I protest that this is not about me disliking warmth, reminding them that I don’t turn on the AC in summer either.    They don’t actually need reminders of that.

Ah, Summer.  That’s when we get to be part of “who’s hot.”

P.S. – sorry for any misspelling of Mahtabili.  Please feel free to correct.

Old/New Source of Alternative Energy (Heat) – The Hot Water Bottle

January 4, 2010

Hot Water Bottle (Remembered)

I’m all for solar power, wind power, and other renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.  But during last night’s bitter cold, which was especially frigid in Battery Park City (where I live), the prow of the stationary ship which is Manhattan, I discovered an eminently traditional, and yet not fully tapped, form of alternative energy (i.e. heat).  The hot water bottle.

Seriously.  It was terrific. Better than wool socks.  (Maybe not as good as a nearby warm body, but warm bodies don’t necessarily put up with cold feet other than their own.)

As a caveat, I should say that I keep my apartment relatively (my kids say, ‘extremely’) cool (my kids say, ‘freezing’) in winter.  Besides trying to keep my carbon footprint to a toeprint, I find hot air heat too dry.   This means that I basically turn all the heat off at night.  (Okay, so maybe my kids are right.)

But last night called for measures beyond wool socks, a down comforter, and even a nearby warm body.

I have to confess to a past prejudice against hot water bottles, their rubbery exteriors so (potentially, at least) slimy and nubbly.  Besides my innate repugnance, my only personal experience with hot water bottles was in Mussoorie, India, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas, bordering Rishikesh (the hang-out of Maharaji Mahesh Yogi the Beatles’ guru)  and Dehra Dun (a favorite locale of Rudyard Kipling).

Mussoorie, though a very nice town, probably sounds more romantic than it is, at least when you are there alone, as I was.   It was green, hilly, and, on the small main road had a small boy who ran alongside a single thin wheel which he propelled with a stick.   On a clear day, there was a tower you could climb where you could supposedly see Tibet.  (I was not there on any clear days.)

Other than that, all I remember about Mussoorie is that it was very cold at night and that in my guest house, a remnant of the Raj, guests were distributed hot water bottles after dinner.  These, a sickly blue green, were covered in a worn crochet of thick bright red and purple yarn;  up by the corked top was a dog-eared yarn flower.

My memory of these hot water bottles is somewhat muddled by the baths in that same hotel.  The tubs were portable, small and tin, just about big enough for a squat.  When I came back to the hotel in the late afternoons, there was, next to the little tin tub, a very large aluminum tea kettle coated in an even larger quilted tea cozy.  Though the water in this kettle was close to boiling (depending upon when one came back to the room), there was only enough to fill the very cold noisy tub to the depth of an inch or two.  I remember taking all baths in at least one wool sweater.

Unfortunately, the crochet-covered hot water bottle and the tea-cozy-covered bath water became inextricably linked in my mind.  As a result, I always thought of hot water bottles with a shiver from the waist down.

Until last night, that is, when my husband, in response to the buzzing cold of my feet,  found a dark red hot water bottle in the back of a bathroom cabinet, and filled it up to the brim.

What a revelation!  My own little heat pillow.  My own little adjustable portable hearth.   At virtually no cost!  Using minimal fossil fuel!

Okay, so, it sounds silly.  But it also seems a useful paradigm for reducing U.S. energy consumption.    Heating one small actually used space, as needed, instead of the nonstop heating of a whole apartment, or house.  A helpful idea even when oil has not yet gotten back up to $100 a barrel.  (News alert—it went over $81 today.)

No crochet required.

ps- if you prefer paintings of elephants to hot water bottles, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson.